Top 8 Foods for Eating Healthy on a Budget
Healthy eating is not always easy, I mean obviously. If it was, we wouldn’t be struggling with the obesity and lifestyle disease rates we’re seeing today, right? Depending on your lifestyle, there can be a variety of barriers. In my two decades of experience, it generally boils down to one of these I’ve listed below. Can you, or do you know someone who can relate?
Barriers to Healthy Eating…
It takes too long to shop and prepare (i.e I don’t have the time).
It is too complicated and hard to cook (i.e I don’t know how to do it).
It is too expensive (i.e. Whole Foods = Whole Paycheck).
It is bland, boring or gross tasting (i.e. I love my added salt, sugar and fat).
There are other less common ones too, but I’d say those make up the majority of reasons we don’t eat better on a regular basis. And trust me, I can relate to all of them. I grew up on Skittles, Captain Crunch Berries and Tuna Casserole. These were the perks of being raised by a single dad who was truly awesome, but our diet quality was not the priority. Over time, I’ve overcome them all (most of the time) and I’m truly passionate about helping others do the same because I believe so strongly in the power of food. My goal is to provide solutions to all barriers to healthy eating.
Today, let’s talk about eating healthy on a budget!
This is why I came up with the Clean & Colorful Solution because it was something everybody could do and with the right support (and of course motivation), all these barriers can be overcome. Today’s topic is near and dear to my heart because I have lived on a budget nearly my entire life. And even if I was showering in cash, I’d still be a bargain shopper, it’s in my DNA.
Top 8 Budget Friendly Healthy Foods
Of course where you live and shop will impact the total cost of these items and shopping in season also helps keep cost low on produce. But generally speaking, these are your winners because not only are they inexpensive and full of quality nutrition, these are truly some of the most versatile foods. These are all staples in my house and I geek out all the time over how many awesome, nutritionally dense meals you can get out of these winners.
1. Beans (any and all of them!)
I truly feel bad for Paleos because they don’t get to incorporate these beauties into their diet. They are a protein from the earth (plant based) and full of fiber and other minerals like calcium, potassium, and folic acid. It will vary per type, but on average a 1/3 cup serving has about 80 calories and 5g of both protein and fiber.
When you buy them by the can, they are like a buck for 3.5 servings. When you buy them by the bag and boil them yourself, they are like a buck for 14 servings! Plus they taste better, have less sodium, less anti-nutrients and freeze like champions. I use beans in every salad, hearty bowl, omelet and even brownies!
Eggs are great because they last forever (well, like a month), are a great source of protein (6g for less than 80 calories for a whole egg) and also have important vitamins like Vitamin D and B12 and are staples in many recipes.
The Fat Burning Veggie Scramble is one of my all-time favorite breakfasts. You can pack in all five colors easily and stay full well into the late morning. You can also hard boil them to have them on hand as awesome, portable, nutrient dense snacks.
Bananas are filled with fiber and of course potassium and have about 100 calories making them a great addition to breakfast or as a grab-and-go snack. They will vary in price depending where and when you buy them, but generally they are less than a $1 per pound.
I love them fresh to put on top of toast with peanut butter, in optimized oatmeal and as the base to my all-time favorite healthy dessert. If they are past their prime, you can peel then and freeze them for smoothies making them a safe produce investment knowing they will never go to waste.
That is bananas!
Even though the cauliflower lacks the vibrant color of many of it’s counterparts, don’t let that fool you. It is a nutrient powerhouse! An entire head can run as low as a buck and have only 145 calories with 12g of fiber and 11g of protein! It also houses key nutrients like Potassium, Iron, Magnesium and Vitamins B6 and C.
I like to call cauliflower the chicken of vegetables because it will do whatever you tell it to. You can chop it up to mimic rice, mash it into look like mashed potatoes, boil and blend as a base for many creamy/cheesy sauces and even flatten it out into pizza crust.
5. Sweet Potatoes
If you judge veggies by their color like I do, then you know these guys are good for you. Regular white potatoes aren’t all that bad (when they aren’t buried under cheese, bacon, butter and sour cream), but sweet potatoes win the nutrition war because their vibrant orange color comes from Beta Carotene, making them a very good source of Vitamin A.
Sweet Potatoes will cost you less than a buck per pound and make an awesome side dish to French Toast for breakfast in lieu of hash browns when roasted. They are also delicious mashed, cut up and baked as “fries” and tossed in the crockpot for vegan or turkey chili.
I like celery for a few reasons. It’s not something anybody craves or is really stoked to eat, but it’s essentially a zero calorie food (one cup has about 16 calories) with a few important nutrients like Potassium, Vitamin A and C. It provides a ton of water and crunch making it incredibly satisfying and a good craving kicker. An entire stalk/bunch is usually about a dollar or two and will last quite some time once washed and stored in the refrigerator.
Because it contains so much water, it’s a great staple ingredient for Basic Green Juice and makes a simple snack. It’s a great replacement to processed, calorically dense and nutritionally inefficient chips or crackers. You can also use it to add bulk, texture and flavor to tuna salad and save yourself from being buried under too much mayo or sour cream.
Carrots, like their orange sister the Sweet Potato are also a great source of beta carotene, making them an amazingly dense source of Vitamin A. One cup has 50 calories and about 4 grams of fiber and cost less than .70 per pound. Baby carrots are higher in sugar than the larger ones Bugs Bunny eats, however I don’t know of anybody whoever became overweight from overconsumption of baby carrots.
Carrots, similar to celery make great, simple grab and go snacks that provide a ton of crunch and water. They are an excellent vehicle to deliver yummy dips like hummus to your mouth without an inefficient chip or cracker. The Italian Carrot Salad is one of my all time favorites and is perfect for these warm Summer months.
Seriously one of my new favorite Summer Salads!
7. Dry Oats
Dry oats should be a staple in everybody’s pantry, and not the little microwaveable ones with added sugar. The giant, cheap cardboard canister of plain old quick oats will do perfectly. You can grind them up to make oat flour and use in lieu of refined white flour and will deliver 4x the fiber and double the protein and a few bits of bonus iron as well. Oats should run you about a buck per pound, they last forever and are good for so much more than oatmeal in the morning.
In addition to power packed hot oatmeal, try this overnight oats recipe to maximize your time in the kitchen and have an awesome grab and go quality breakfast in the morning. I also use oats in pancakes and as an incredibly satiating ingredient in my favorite fat burning smoothie recipes.
8. Canned Tuna
Canned tuna in general is a bargain, but when on sale, you can get it for like $1 for a 5 oz can. In that tiny 5 oz can (when packed in water) you’ll get about 200 calories and 40g protein. This is hands down the most affordable source of animal protein. Tuna is also low fat, yet a good source of Omega 3 Fatty Acids and comes with a good bout of Iron, Phosphorus, Niacin, Selenium as well as Vitamins B6 and B12.
The shelf life of a can of tuna is 2-5 years making it virtually impossible to waste and great to have on hand all-the-time! In addition to being the main staple in that Tuna Casserole I grew up on (thanks dad!), you can used canned tuna in salads and sandwiches. It is awesome runner fuel when paired with white beans and wrapped up in this satisfying lunch!
There you have it! If these foods are not staples in your pantry they should be. Add them to your grocery list now and check out all the recipes I linked to in this post. You’ll be well on your way to healthy eating on a budget!